July 11, 2013: The House Environment Committee took up a proposed committee substitute for Senate Bill 515 (Jordan Lake Water Quality Act). An earlier post (written as the bill made its way through the Senate) provides some background on the Jordan Lake rules. The Senate bill proposed to repeal the rules and study alternative solutions to the lake’s water quality problems. At the time, Senate bill sponsors suggested that a technological solution to the Jordan lake nutrient pollution could make additional investment in upstream pollution controls unnecessary.
Instead of repealing the rules, the bill approved by the House Environment Committee today delays further implementation of the Jordan Lake rules until July 1 2016. It allows DENR and local governments in the Jordan Lake watershed to continue with programs already underway, but otherwise extends compliance deadlines by another three years — affecting the timelines for upgrading wastewater treatment plants and development of local stormwater programs. Discussion in committee made it clear that legislators still hope for a technological solution to substitute for the upstream pollution reductions required under the Jordan Lake rules. Senator Rick Gunn told House members that separate legislation would create a legislative study and provide $2 million in funding for a pilot project to test technology and “best practices” to improve water quality in Jordan Lake. In response to a question, Senator Gunn indicated that the funding would come out of the existing appropriation for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. (The actual appropriation to Clean Water Management Trust Fund is still in question since differences between the House and Senate budget bills have not been resolved.)
Although the bill itself does not identify a particular technology, one committee member mentioned Solar Bee — a technology used to aerate water tanks and lakes. Since the new bill draft does not include language actually describing the study or the pilot project, it is not clear how broadly the legislature will look for technological solutions to Jordan Lake’s pollution problems.
The vote to approve the bill in committee was surprisingly close and at least two Republican members spoke against the bill. Some of the opposition focused on the proposal to take $2 million from the already diminished Clean Water Management Trust Fund budget to pay for the pilot project. There was also concern that the pilot project may direct state money to a single technology.
Although less radical than the Senate version, the House bill still sets up an unnecessary choice between reducing pollution coming from sources upstream of Jordan Lake or using technology to improve conditions in the lake. However effective a technology may be, it is unlikely to offset increasing levels of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing downstream into the lake. The only certain thing about the bill is that it will allow three more years of development in the upper watershed without comprehensive stormwater controls and three more years without tighter nitrogen and phosphorus limits on wastewater discharges. The three year delay in implementing the rules does not maintain the status quo — it allows nitrogen and phosphorus loading to Jordan Lake to increase. In the end, delay may also increase the cost of addressing the water quality problem.
In the meantime, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has responded to a question from Rep. Rick Glazier about the impact of Senate Bill 515 on the state’s delegated Clean Water Act program. A July 10, 2013 letter from EPA’s Acting Administrator in Region 4, Stan Meiburg, makes two important points:
1. In more blunt language than you will often find in an EPA letter, Meiburg expressly says that federal law does not allow use of treatment technology as a substitute for actually reducing the pollutants being discharged to Jordan Lake. When a water body cannot meet a water quality standard, the Clean Water Act requires the state to limit discharges of the pollutant causing the problem to levels that will eliminate the violation. In Clean Water Act terms, the state must set a “total maximum daily load” (TMDL) for the pollutant. The TMDL acts as a cap; each individual wastewater treatment plant or industrial discharger feeding into the impaired water body has a permit limit for the TMDL pollutant and the sum of all the permitted discharges cannot exceed the cap.
2. Since the state’s Jordan Lake nutrient strategy is the federally approved TMDL for Jordan Lake, Meiburg makes it clear that EPA expects the state to continue implementing the nitrogen and phosphorus reductions in the nutrient strategy whatever happens legislatively. That means EPA will hold the state to the total level of nitrogen and phosphorus reductions called for in the Jordan Lake rules. If EPA finds that the state has failed to carry out some part of the strategy — such as stormwater controls on new development — EPA will expect the state to offset the loss of those nitrogen and phosphorus reductions by increasing the reductions from other nutrient sources.
The full text of the letter: 7_10_2013 Letter to Rick Glazier re B Everett Jordan Reservoir TMDL-1
House Environment was the only committee referral for Senate Bill 515, so the new version of the bill will next go to the House floor. If approved, the bill will have to go back to the Senate for concurrence in the changes made by the House.